Bad retouching is not the subject of this article. Sometimes we read articles that talk about banning retouching or rumors that some brands or companies are going to get it banned from their advertising. If we dig deeper into the very reasons for such a decision, we should ban many other processes involved in the crafting of commercial imagery.
The last few years I've read a number of stories about fashion brands, model agencies, magazines and such, that decide to ban the digital processing of the photographs they use for their marketing. Some apply that restriction (or at least say so), others try it temporarily, while others withdraw their decision.
What is Retouching Supposed to Do?
Why is retouching banned? Because it alters the subject. I am not talking about aggressive use of the Liquify tool or making the skin look like plastic. Good retouching is meant to remove the temporary imperfections that in other cases may not be there, could not be achieved in camera, or was too expensive or time-consuming to get them right in camera.
Why Not Ban Others That Do the Same?
If we want to ban the digital process of removing imperfections, why don't we ban makeup artists? They do exactly the same, but in the physical world. They are able to change the shape of the face with a few brush strokes, to conceal blemishes or introduce such. They can change the shape of the eyes using optical illusion techniques. That sounds to me like an aggressive use of the Liquify tool in Photoshop.
What about hair stylists? They know how to make the face look thinner or wider by the way hair shapes around it. Do we want to ban them too?
What about cinematographers and photographers? They know how to light and frame a subject so that they look way better than in real life. Is that craft a subject to banning too?
What about casting directors? Don't they reject certain types of models because they aren't suitable for the project?
Bad retouching should not be the reason to ban a whole group of artists who can do a good job removing temporary imperfections such as hair misplacement, skin blemishes, wrinkles, etc. If that process is not used to fool the client, it is applied in a fair fashion. The same for hair stylists who do a great job making a subject look pretty by temporarily changing the shape of the hair. So are photographers who by introducing specific lighting conditions can make a subject look greater than we see it in our daily life.